Influential Spheres: Examining Actors’ Perceptions of Education Governance


  • Michael Thier University of Oregon
  • Joanna Smith University of Oregon
  • Christine Pitts University of Oregon
  • Ross Anderson University of Oregon



education governance, education policy, state and local perspectives


Many layers of education governance press upon U.S. schools, so we separated state actors into those internal to and those external to the system. In the process, we unpacked the traditional state–local dichotomy. Using interview data (n = 45) from six case-study states, we analyzed local leaders’, state-internal actors’, and state-external players’ perceptions of implementation flexibility and hindrances across several policy areas. We observed how interviewees’ spheres of influence linked to which policy areas they viewed as salient or not, and their relative emphases
on who and what within state education systems contributed to implementation flexibility and/or hindrances, and how these factors played out. We found important differences by sphere: the local sphere produced the most coherent findings, and state-internal was least coherent. We discuss implications for education governance research, applications for practitioners and policymakers, and a methodological contribution.

Author Biographies

Michael Thier, University of Oregon

Michael Thier is a candidate for a concurrent PhD in Educational Methodology, Policy, and Leadership and MPA in Public Administration at the University of Oregon. He uses mixed methods to understand globalization’s role in K-12 education, specifically studying programs and policies that enable and constrain development of global citizenship. He is also interested in metacognitive skill measurement and and effects of school remoteness on opportunity to learn. In 2015, he was named a Sylff Fellow and the Outstanding Graduate Student for the American Educational Research Association's special interest group on Educational Change. He collaborates with colleagues in Australia, Canada, China, Qatar, Senegal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Previously, he directed International Baccalaureate programmes and was a National Board-certified teacher in North Carolina and a journalist in New York. Currently, he is a Research and Policy Fellow jointly appointed to the Center for Equity Promotion and Educational Policy Improvement Center. He has degrees from New York University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Joanna Smith, University of Oregon

Dr. Smith is a Lecturer in Educational Methodology, Policy, and Leadership at the University of Oregon. Her research uses qualitative methods to explore the links between educational policy, leadership, and the improvement of schools and school systems. Her primary focus is the policy conditions that foster successful reform by educational leaders, defined broadly to encompass the decision-making roles played by the spectrum of system actors including (in some contexts) teachers, parents, school leaders, board members, and district and state administrators. As such, her work explores three levels of the education system: schools, districts, and states and has included studies of site-based management, charter schools, district responses to state budget reallocation, parent involvement, state education governance structures and policies, school-based governance, school networks, public-private partnerships in education, and the use of categorical funding. Dr. Smith's work has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement as well as a number of foundations and policy organizations, including the Weingart Foundation, the Center for American Progress, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Christine Pitts, University of Oregon

Christine Pitts is a PhD candidate and graduate research assistant in Educational Methodology, Policy, and Leadership at the University of Oregon. Her research interests include analyzing educational policy development with a focus on uncovering the effects of policy on marginalized and underrepresented populations in public education. Previously, Christine was an elementary school teacher and reading specialist in Oregon and North Carolina. Currently, she is a policy fellow at the Educational Policy Improvement Center implementing an arts integration research study in four school districts.

Ross Anderson, University of Oregon

Ross Anderson is a PhD student in Educational Methodology, Policy, and Leadership at the University of Oregon and a senior lead researcher at the Educational Policy Improvement Center. His main research interests include the role of creativity and other metacognitive skills in student learning and engagement in school, teacher development and pedagogy, and measures of student success.




How to Cite

Thier, M., Smith, J., Pitts, C., & Anderson, R. (2017). Influential Spheres: Examining Actors’ Perceptions of Education Governance. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 11(9).

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